Debate: different ways of disagreeing

This hierarchy of disagreement is fairly accurate for blog debate and discussions.

That is from Big Think – How to disagree well: 7 of the best and worst ways to argue

A great tool, the web also seems to drive dispute. It is also a reflection of the larger reality, where divisiveness has spread throughout our society. A classic essay from one of the Internet’s pioneers suggests that there is a way to harness such negative energy of the online world and disagree with people without invoking anger—a lesson that extends far beyond the web.

Paul Graham is an English-born computer programmer with a Ph.D. from Harvard, an accomplished entrepreneur, a VC capitalist as well as a writer.  In his essay, Graham proposed that the “web is turning writing into a conversation,” recognizing that the internet has become an unprecedented medium of communication. 

He says this tendency towards disagreement is structurally built into the online experience because in disagreeing, people tend to have much more to say than if they just expressed that they agreed.

To disagree better Graham came up with these seven levels of a disagreement hierarchy (DH):

DH0. Name-calling

That can be done crudely by saying repulsive things like “u r a fag!!!!!!!!!!” or even more pretentiously (but still to the same effect) like, “The author is a self-important dilettante”.

DH1. Ad hominem

An argument of this kind attacks the person rather than the point they are making—the literal Latin translation of this phrase is: ‘to the person.’ It involves somehow devaluing a person’s opinion by devaluing the one who is expressing it, without directly addressing what they are saying.

DH2. Responding to tone

The lowest form of responding to writing is disagreeing with the author’s tone, according to Graham. For example, one could point out the “cavalier” or “flippant” attitude with which a writer formulated their opinion.

Stick to the material, Graham advises: “It matters much more whether the author is wrong or right than what [their] tone is.”

DH3. Contradiction

Offering an opposing case but very little evidence. You simply state what you think is true, in contrast to the position of the person you are arguing with.

For example “I can’t believe the author dismisses intelligent design in such a cavalier fashion. Intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory.”

DH4. Counterargument

A counterargument is a contradiction with evidence and reasoning. When it’s “aimed squarely at the original argument, it can be convincing,” wrote Graham. But, alas, more often than not, passionate arguments end up having both participants actually arguing about different things.

DH6. Refuting the central point

This tactic is the “most powerful form of disagreement,” contended Graham. It depends on what you are talking about but largely entails refuting someone’s central point.

This is in contrast to refuting only minor points of an argument—a form of “deliberate dishonesty” in a debate. An example of that would be correcting someone’s grammar (which slides you back to DH1 level) or pointing out factual errors in names or numbers. Unless those are crucial details, attacking them only serves to discredit the opponent, not their main idea.

The best way to refute someone is to figure out their central point, or one of them if there are several issues involved.

This is how Graham described “a truly effective refutation”:

The author’s main point seems to be x. As he says:


But this is wrong for the following reasons…

This may be “the most powerful form of disagreement’ but it doesn’t guarantee success in a debate. Sometimes people just won’t concede an argument even when proven wrong. In debate some minds can be changed some of the time.

Having these tools in evaluating how we argue with each other can go a long way towards regaining some civility in our discourse by avoiding the unproductive lower forms of disagreement. Whether its trolls of other nations or our own home-grown trolls and confused spirits, the conversation over the Internet leaves a lot to be desired for many Americans. It’s hard not to see it as a social malady.

Graham also viewed his hierarchy as a way to weed out dishonest arguments or “fake news” in modern parlance.

Forceful words are just a “defining quality of a demagogue,” he pointed out. By understanding the different forms of their disagreement, “we give critical readers a pin for popping such balloons”.

We can all learn to disagree and debate better – more civilly and more effectively.

Paul Graham’s full essay: How to Disagree.

‘Mainstream press’ warned off hijacking discussion around Pride Parade

It is becoming common for people to assert that particular groups or demographics should keep out of discussions. It is odd for the ‘mainstream media’ be warned off getting involved in discussions – especially when the person doing the warning uses a mainstream media column to discuss things.

Informed and well informed can be different things.

Especially so if discussions are ring fenced so only some views are allowed.

It is ironic that ‘the LGBTQ+ community’ want to be seen as normal members of an inclusive society but want to exclude others from discussions.

I also find a clash between wanting to normalise various sexual and social types, but having things like Pride Parades that shout and flaunt particular behaviours.

LGBTQ+ will have successfully integrated with society when they don’t stand out as different.

Also in the news last night (and over the last few months):

The Spinoff (4 July): I’m pregnant and I’m going to be a dad

Stuff (14 November): Pregnant Kiwi dad-to-be getting ready to welcome first child around Christmas

1 news (22 November): Watch: The remarkable journey to parenthood of a Dunedin dad expecting to give birth

I really wonder whether this sort of self publicity is a good thing for those who want to be seen as normal members of society. Perhaps it shows others that being different is ok and ‘normal’, but it risks being seen as ‘Look at me, I’m different!” – a bit like the Pride Parade.

And a wee point on inclusiveness, shouldn’t it be LGBTQMW+ ?



Ardern – “absolute given” no announcements before Cabinet discussion

Prime Minister Jacinda has said it is “an absolute given” no announcements should be made by Ministers before Cabinet discussion  – except when it is “normal decision making process”.

After Andrew Little had to scrap his plans to scrap the 3 strikes legislation when it became obvious NZ First wouldn’t support it, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made it clear Ministers shouldn’t make announcements before discussing them in Cabinet.

From NZH:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters it was a “given” that ministers did not make announcements before discussing them at Cabinet.

“There’s always a given that we wouldn’t do that. It’s something that doesn’t really need requirement to be repeating. It’s an absolute given,” she said.

“Three strikes makes up only a very small part of a much wider agenda and we are continuing to pursue that agenda as a Government. None of these decisions are finalised until we have that discussion as Cabinet. All our ministers know that,” Ardern said.

Ardern is a bit liberal with her use of ‘absolute’, given her announcement (along with a Labour minister, a Green minister and an NZ First minister on oil and gas exploration permits without discussing it with Cabinet.

Stuff: No Cabinet paper written, no Cabinet decision made, in “political decision” to ban new oil exploration

Cabinet has made no decision on ending oil exploration, documents being released today will show, with April’s announcement made on the basis of a political agreement between the coalition parties.

On April 12, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led a group of ministerial colleagues into the Beehive theatrette to confirm news that the Government had decided it would offer no new offshore permits for oil and gas exploration, with onshore permits offered in Taranaki for as little as three years.

Although the news was delivered by ministers affected by the decision and in a forum usually used to discuss decisions made by Cabinet, politicians made the decision in their roles as party leaders.

Today the Government will release a series of documents generated in the making of the oil and gas exploration decision, but it has already confirmed to Stuff that no Cabinet paper was created and that Cabinet has not voted on the matter.

“There was no Cabinet decision,” a spokesman for Energy Minister Megan Woods said.

In a statement, Ardern defended the handling of the decision, but said it was not how most decisions would be made.

“The decision on future oil and gas block offers was a political decision made by the government parties. It was consulted on and agreed between the parties and taken to Cabinet for confirmation,” a spokesman for Ardern said.

“This is a normal decision making process when it comes to coalition wide matters, but does tend to be the exception rather than the rule.”

An “absolute given”that ministers did not make announcements before discussing them at Cabinet except when it was part of the  “normal decision making process” that is “the exception rather than the rule”.



Discussion – compassion more than competition

Comments made by All Black coach Steve Hansen on his interview on The Nation are pertinent to blogging and social media discussion.

How do you motivate yourself? You spend a lot of time motivating the team, obviously, but what’s motivating you?

Interestingly enough, I don’t think my job is to motivate the team. My job is to create an environment where motivated athletes can perform. So how do I motivate myself? I guess it’s, one, I love winning – really love it. I’m a very, very competitive person.

You know, I love debating and having discussions. And when I was younger, I was probably an average human being because of that, because I’d lose sight of, actually, this is just a discussion; it’s not a competition. That took a while for me to learn that and probably hurt some people along the way, but… So I love winning.

It’s especially easy to try and hurt people, or to hurt people inadvertently, when discussing things online, as you are not personally engaged.

How did you hurt people? By…?

Well, New Zealanders are great at putting other people down. You know, some of us are quite sharp with our tongues, and you hurt people’s feelings by smacking them when— I don’t mean physically but verbally because you’ve outwitted them, but you walk away feeling pretty good about yourself because you’ve won that argument, but really you didn’t. You lost. You know, you lost somebody.

So once you learn those sorts of things, I think that’s a little easier to understand compassion, I guess.

Online discussions are often robust and sometimes testy and tetchy. But it’s worth all of us remembering the importance of some degree of compassion.

There are people involved in all sides of debate. Strong disagreement is going to happen.

Remembering there are people involved and maintaining a degree of compassion is something we should all think about.

And learning something from discussion and helping others learn something is more important than winning, isn’t it? Political discussions rarely have an end and rarely have a winner, they are ongoing works in progress.

Source: Steven Hansen on The Nation

Euthanasia discussion – comments

Here are some of the comments from Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide — A Discussion We Need To Have held in Dunedin on Thursday.

Thomas Noakes-Duncan (postgraduate student, Department of Theology & Religion) started with a presentation of a short research paper on attitudes towards euthanasia in NZ society

What is at stake?
1. Compassion
Ethical issues, humane, crime of compassion
The nature of our dying has changed.
Can we talk of a natural death any more?
God is not dominant any more, doctors are.
2. Dignity
My body, my choice.
Is death on demand a commodity?
God gives each of us the choice to decide to live, or to end our life.
3. Secularism
Secularisation has radically altered our world view.
Ethics, liberty and human rights.
Exit at a time and means of our own choosing.
Three questions:
1. Emotion over moral reason?
2. Compassionate solidarity? Note social loneliness.
3. Naive?
Power of the media.
Right to die versus duty to die?

Professor Sean Davison (author of Before We Say Goodbye)

His mother was a medical doctor who got cancer. She stopped eating, and after five weeks of wasting away she asked for help to die.
Ask anyone else what they would have done?
– Any humane peerson would have done it.
Not a crime to help someone to die when theyb have made a choice.
(meaning it shouldn’t be, he was convicted of helping)
A right to say “no thank you, I’ve had enough”.

Professor Grant Gillett (University of Otago Centre for Bioethics), has been working on end of life issues since 1995.

Euthanasia isnpersuasive.
Patient shouldn be able to ask doctor to hasten death.
Doctors have a fundamental hangup.
Value of life.
It can be hard to make decisions in the middle of your own tragedy.
Hard not to feel some depression when facingb terminal illness.
Medical profession says they should not hasten death.
Doctors can just hasten death but should be told to do so.
A doctor must stop treatment if requested by the patient.

Hon Maryan Street, MP (sponsor of a Private Member’s Bill to legalize some end-of-life options)

If drawn from the ballot this would be the third attempt to pass legislation in parliament on legislation, and would be a conscience vote.
1995 – 29 for, 61 against.
2003 – 57 for, 60 against.
Cannot have end of life discussion without ann involvement from faith.
It’s about dignity and choice.
Levels of protection:
1. Wishes must be made when of “sound mind” (this was argued against later).
2. Competent to make decision.
3. Protected from coercion – no family or doctor coercion.
4. Protection for family members from criminal liability.
Palliative care is very good quality but doesn’t provide choices.
Social conversation needs to be had.
Lobby every member of parliament to tell them how you want them to vote.

John Kleinsman (Director, Nathaniel Centre, the NZ Catholic Bioethics Centre, Wellington)

Implacably opposed to euthanasia.
Implacably opposed to legislation on euthanasia.
Personal position isn irrelevant.
Can it be safely be implemented? No.
Not satisfied with the status quo.
Currently there isn’t equal access to palliative care, once we have that we can have this debate.
We are in one of the most dangerous times.
New pathways for elder abuse.
Burden of proof may lead to duty to die.
Cannot be limited to a small group.
There would be a progression to non-volunteers.
What about mental suffering without imminent death?
Abuses will continuie to occur?
All or nothing, it’s a farce to talk about voluntary.
It wouldn ultimjately empower the state.

Associate Professor Colin Gavaghan (specialist in medical law and ethics, Faculty of Law)

Quite limited case law.
There’s no such law as euthanasia, it comes under the general law of homicide.
Time isn’t important in law – whether the imminence of death is hours or months.
Does an action actually have an effect on shortening life.
Could prove an attempt to shorten life, but difficult to prove it actually shortens the life.
Must be proven to be intentional.
Assisted suicide – who takes the final step? Swallowing, or giving?
Inciting – if initiated by another person.
Aiding and abetting – degree of uncertainty on this.
Is gathering information aiding and abetting?
Assisting sonmeone to travel to a place they can be assisted in suicide?
Doctors can knowingly shorten life with analgesics, or by withdrawing treatment (which is legal).
Coercion and competence are issues.
Concerns already with us under current law.
Doubt now about where the line is drawn.
The current legal situation is not black and white.

Questions and responses.

Need to carefully define words and underlying assumptions, eg dignity of death.

Q. compare it to sending many people to war knowing it will kill some of them.
(the debate was the day after ANZAC Day)
Davusin: Have to draw the line at “terminally ill”.
Calling it “assistance in dying”.

Q. What can we do to encourage MPs to look at it?
Street: Calling her bill “end of life choice bill”.
Making decisions to hasten death.

Q. Are we at an unfortunate patch in history?
Davison: decades agowe didn’t talk about Aids, abortion. Similarly it’s no longer taboo to talk about euthanasia.
Davison: To get a law passed it has to be very clear – someone who is terminally ill should have a right to choose.

Q. If it’s limited to people “of sound mind” does that rule out being depressed about dying, which will oiften be the case?
Street: People with clinical depression must be excluded.
Street: Two doctors must make a clinical judgement of soundness of mind.
Gavaghan: a degree of depression is likely, but does that mean a lack of “sound mind”? Depression may not be incompatible with making a competent decision.

Q. an 82 year old man has since forty repeatedly made written statements about his wish to choose his own manner of death. If he becomes “gaga” will that be taken into account?
Street: Advance directions would not able to be overturned, but it must be refreshed. Every 2, 3, 5 years?

Q. Asked to compare mercenaries – professional killers – versus voluntary euthanasia.

Q. If doctors assessments are confidential who do you guarantee there’s no coercion?
How to check if two doctors are not just selected to “tick the boxes”?
A. There should be a health and disability advocate?
Doctors are tremendously trustworthy people, ethical.
Kleinsman: could specialists who are not doctors be used? He said in Oregon the two doctor test is not working as people go doctor shopping to fin onse that will agree.

Q. Concern over abortion law parallel where in practice “choice” is available on a threat to mental health basis.
Kleinsman: the intention of law doesn’t always work in practice.
Street: legislation would erequire a review after say 5 years.

Q. What happens if the elderly are deemed to have become a burden?
Gavaghan: there’s no way to make the law 100% safe. No other part of healthcare is.
Davison: stastistics show that when choice is available the rates of suicide decrease.

Q. Is it all or nothing? (if allowing choice in some cases will it open floodgates?)
Street: Could not disagree more. It’s possible to have legally assisted suicide without it morphing into legal murder.

NOTE: these comments are in my words as noted in attendance at the discussion.

My conclusion = a complex issue with no simple answers.
I agreed mostly with most points made, with several interesting quandaries and questions raised.
We can’t stop everyone making their own choices because it may be abused by a few.

Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide — A Discussion We Need To Have.

– was held in the Colquhoun Lecture Theatre, Dunedin Public Hospital, 26th April 2012.

It was organised by the Centre for Theology and Public Issues. The Centre is based in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Otago. It was founded in January 2009, and is New Zealand’s first.